Opinion

Lessons in Crusader cuisine

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The “window” of the Apollonia Fortress’ dungeon affords a view of the kind of Mediterranean scene that is fast disappearing: gravel cliffs sloping sharply down to turquoise and pale green inlets, grouper fish darting around a reef, clearly visible in the transparent water, and one man sunbathing on the rocks, completely naked. The tourists standing at the spot where the magnificent tower once loomed gaze enchanted at the view – either at the sunbather’s exposed limbs, or, more likely, at the remnants of the Crusader port. This is a collection of boulders protruding from the water, what’s left of the towers that once stood by the entry of the ancient port before they grew weary and collapsed in the mid-20th century, several hundred years after they were built.

Crusader nobles awakened to this vista every morning, peering out at the European ships that anchored across from the port and the boats that made their way back and forth to fill the city’s storerooms with precious goods. The living quarters of the Crusader fortress, where the families of the knights who ruled the area resided, were located on the western side of the fortress, which faced the sea. This section eventually collapsed after ceaseless erosion by the waves of the gravel ridge.

Apollonia’s natural harbor never developed into a port as large as Acre, where dozens of ships would anchor in the 13th century, to be loaded with locally- produced sugar bound for Europe. But the ruins of Apollonia are enough to make one see that the constant movement of people, raw materials and cooking techniques was already occurring hundreds of years before the word “globalization” became part of the modern vocabulary.

Sugar cane, lemons, oranges, eggplant, bananas, rice and other agricultural products originally cultivated in the Far East were adopted by Western civilization via the Middle East. The legends that grew up around the West’s first encounters with these unfamiliar foods and the way they spread throughout Europe were largely connected to the Crusades and the knights who flooded the Middle East with blood on their way to the Holy Land. They hungrily gorged themselves on sugary sweets and almonds, it’s said, and brought these treats back with them to their native countries.

But the historic truth, as usual, is a bit more complex, since most of the knights who settled in the Crusader kingdom never returned to Europe. Today it is widely believed that the reconquest of Spain and Sicily from the Muslim Empire, rather than the Crusades, introduced the foods and flavors of classic Arabic cuisine into the lands of the Mediterranean and then to Western Europe.

Whatever the case, the West’s encounter in the Middle Ages with Arabic cuisine, which in many respects was more advanced than Western cooking of the time, was a source of great excitement among the Crusaders. This week, we returned to the cuisine of the Land of Israel in the 12th and 13th centuries – via a Crusader cooking workshop at Apollonia National Park.

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are. In the Middle Ages, so we learned in the workshop, food defined a person’s identity and status in the world. This is true to a great extent today as well, but it was even truer when people believed that the nobleman’s physical build required him to eat the dainty flesh of fish, fragile, high-flying birds, and roast game. A peasant whose body was not designed to digest such foods and nevertheless sampled them, was liable to take sick, according to popular belief at the time, and so he was supposed to make do with simple, crude vegetables that grew close to the ground. Once in a while, the poor would season their bean and root vegetable stew with a paltry bit of fat from an animal’s less desirable parts.

Meanwhile, the upper middle class ate hardly any vegetables. And as for carbohydrates, white bread made from wheat was food for lords only. In Europe, the peasants ate black bread made from rye or oats, and delivered any wheat, a much rarer commodity, to whoever was above them in the social hierarchy. Thus, the Crusaders were quite surprised to find that in the Holy Land, everyone ate white bread and pita made of wheat.

In Europe, cooking employed mainly animal fat, usually lard, and food was so greasy that bumps were carved in bowls to keep it from slipping out of people’s hands. In the Middle East, the main sources of fat were olive oil and sesame oil.

Another surprise was the abundance of available spices and the broad use of herbs. In medieval Europe, food was seasoned primarily with black pepper and a little salt, which was also used to preserve, smoke and dry foods. In Arab cuisine, by comparison, seasoning was considered a real art. Extensive use was made of spices such as ginger, saffron, cinnamon and cloves, which the Arab traders brought from the spice lands of the East, and of seasonings produced from indigenous herbs.

The Crusaders appear to have internalized the principles of seasoning so well that if you tried to follow Crusader recipes exactly as written, you’d end up with dishes quite unappetizing to the modern palate. Seasoning in Crusader times was not just meant to improve the taste of the food, but had a host of other purposes as well. For one thing, it was a status symbol that reflected a person’s ability to purchase expensive spices from faraway markets. And the various colors that spices gave to food had mystical meanings – for example, the golden hue produced by yellow saffron was an allusion to the possibility of eternal life. The spices also had medicinal purposes.

But most often, the heavy seasoning was intended to cover up the awful taste and quality of the raw ingredients. At a time when there was no refrigeration, the meat was frequently in a bad state. Such dubious meat, buried under layers of spices to hide its flavor, gave the central bazaar that served the Crusaders in Jerusalem its name – the Rue de Malquisinat (“The Street of Bad Cooking”).

Na’ama Frustig and chef David Gol, the leaders of the workshop, chose dishes composed of ingredients that existed during the Crusader period here and adapted them to the modern palate – i.e., they reduced the cacophony of spices and flavors of the original recipes. The lamb packed into the browned meat pies is not soaked overnight in sour milk, as was customary back in the Crusader era, but chopped and fried with egg yolk (in the Middle Ages, eggs were rarely eaten on their own as a food, but were cooked with other ingredients), rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme and a variety of other local herbs. Jacques de Vitry, the governor of Acre, wrote admiringly of the lemon trees, whose tangy fruits were ideal for making sauces for fish and fowl. So chicken thighs were brushed with a mixture of lemon, olive oil and sumac. While the lentil stew simmered over an open fire, workshop participants were taken on a tour of the fortress’ kitchens.

Here is an adaptation of a recipe that appears in different versions in cookbooks from the late Middle Ages. It is based on lemon, spices and wine (the Crusaders who settled in the Holy Land revived, at least for a while, the wine industry that had faded during the age of Muslim occupation) and is a good example of that era’s tendency to blend sweet, sour and salty tastes.

Lemon sauce for chicken and pheasant

Ingredients:

3 lemons

2 1/2 cups white wine

4 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

Peel the lemons and set aside the peel. Squeeze the lemons, keep the juice and the pulp and discard the white pith. Combine lemon peel, pulp and juice with the wine and cook over a low flame for four minutes. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt and simmer for one more minute.

The main celebrity of Apollonia was King Richard the Lionheart. Since little Apollonia did not appear on the map of holy pilgrimage sites, not too many VIPs of the time stayed there, but the English king did spend at least one night. He had run into a unit of Saladin’s army near the city, and in the famous Battle of Arsuf, managed, despite the Crusader army’s inferior numbers, to achieve a great victory, which paved the way for the conquest of the Holy Land. This battle exacted a heavy price among the Crusaders, including the life of Richard’s friend, Sir Jacques, who as buried at the Church of the Holy Lady in Apollonia in the presence of the king himself. The church and the knight’s grave have yet to be found (take note, all you prospective writers of best-selling historic adventure tales).

The history of the Apollonia fortress, unlike that of the city itself, is very brief. It was built by the Crusader rulers of the city, but it wasn’t long before, in the face of the Mamluk threat, it passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller, who were thought to have a better chance of defending the city. As it happened, this strategy was not very successful. Nor was the digging of a wide, 17-meter deep moat that could only be crossed by a raised wooden bridge, or biological weapons in the form of animal carcasses that were hurled over the wall to spread disease among the enemy. Just 24 years after it was built, the Mamluks conquered the fortress after a siege that was anything but lengthy.

But before that happened, 200 Knights Hospitaller and their bearers used to dine at the large wooden table in the dining hall twice a day – most likely in shifts, given the tight space (during the siege, 2,000 people somehow squeezed into the fortress).

The Christian monastic communities, which set down in great detail the rules of eating – including what goes on the menu, seating arrangements and frequency of meals – had an especially important influence on lifestyles in the Middle Ages. Every knight had his own personal knife, there were no forks as yet, and spoons were a rare item. The soup and stew bowls found in excavations were designed to enable diners to drink from them directly.

In the five cooking and baking ovens found in the kitchen next to the dining hall, stews simmered and slabs of meat were roasted. The city’s knights went on hunting trips in pursuit of the fallow deer, wild boar, rabbits and bears that still populated those unsettled areas at the time. One of the city’s rulers died in a freak hunting accident when his hat became stuck on a tree branch, causing him to be strangled.

Tagliot – Archaeology 4 All offers cooking workshops in Philistine, Crusader and Ottoman cuisine. For more information, call 03-6423432 or visit http://www.tagliot.com

Hitler’s Hunt for the Holy Grail and the Ghent Altarpiece

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Why did Hitler crave the missing panel in the famous Ghent Altarpiece? Maybe because the Nazi’s paranormal research group thought the masterpiece contained a map to the Holy Grail.

On the night of 10 April 1934, one of the twelve oak panels that comprise Jan van Eyck’s famous painting, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral, in Ghent, Belgium. Often referred to as “The Ghent Altarpiece,” this monumental oil painting is arguably the single most influential painting ever made. It is also the most-frequently stolen, having been burgled, in its entirety or in parts, at least six times—quite a feat, considering that it is the size of a barn door (14 x 11.5 feet) and weighs about two tons. It was the most-desired artwork by the Nazis, including Hitler and his second-in-command, Hermann Göring.

The two Nazi leaders actually raced one another to be the first to steal the altarpiece. The Nazi art theft unit, the ERR, captured it first for Hitler, from its hiding place at Chateau de Pau, in the south of France, where the Belgian government had sent it for safe-keeping. But an emissary from Göring appropriated it for the Luftwaffe head’s massive stolen art collection, which included some seven-thousand masterpieces, displayed at his country estate outside Berlin. Hitler got wind of this, and intercepted the altarpiece, sending it first to Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, where it was restored, and then for storage in a salt mine in the Austrian Alps near Altaussee, where the twelve-thousand most famous stolen artworks from Nazi-occupied Europe were kept in secret, destined to feature in Hitler’s planned “super museum,” which would be the size of a city, and display every important artwork in the world. From the Altaussee salt mine, the Ghent Altarpiece and its fellow captives were ultimately rescued, thanks to the combined efforts of Austrian miners and a pair of Monuments Men, Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein, who only learned of the Altaussee hoard thanks to a fortuitous toothache that led them to a former SS officer, an art historian who was in hiding as the war drew to a close. The upcoming George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, dramatizes some of these stories, though taking a great many liberties in the process.

The iconography of The Ghent Altarpiece has long fascinated scholars. The painting was immediately the most famous in Europe, when it was completed in 1432. It was the first major oil painting. Oil had been used to bind pigments to paintings since the Middle Ages, but Jan van Eyck was the first to demonstrate the true potential of oils, which permit far greater subtlety and detail than largely-opaque egg-based tempera paint, which was preferred before The Ghent Altarpiece popularized oils. The altarpiece contains over 100 figures, and is an elaborate pantheon of Catholic mysticism—at its center stands a heavenly field, brimming with uniquely-depicted figures around a sacrificial lamb, representative of Christ (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from which the work draws it title). The lamb stands upon an altar and bleeds into a chalice—the Holy Grail.

Hitler so craved the Ghent Altarpiece because it was one of the most famous artworks in history, and it was by a Germanic artist, in the realistic, Northern Renaissance style that Hitler preferred.  It had also been forcibly repatriated to Belgium after the First World War, before which certain panels of the altarpiece had been displayed in Berlin. The Treaty of Versailles mentioned only four works of cultural heritage, foremost among them The Ghent Altarpiece. Hitler wanted to correct the humiliation inflicted on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles, and recapturing the altarpiece would go some way toward that goal.

But there may also have been a more fantastic reason why Hitler wanted this painting above all others. Rumor had it that he was convinced that the painting contained a coded map to lost Catholic treasures, the so-called Arma Christi, or instruments of Christ’s Passion, including the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail, and the Spear of Destiny. Hitler believed that the possession of the Arma Christiwould grant their owner supernatural powers. As the tide of the war turned ever more against the Nazis, Hitler cranked up his efforts to seek some supernatural way to bring victory to the Third Reich.

Cue the soundtrack to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’sübermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.
The idea that the Nazis had teams of researchers hunting for supernatural treasures, religious relics, and entrances to a magical land of telepathic faeries and giants might sound like a bad History Channel documentary, or out-takes from an Indiana Jones movie. But despite the considerable popular interest in all things Nazi-related, and all things supernatural, relatively few people are aware of a very real organization that was the inspiration for the Indiana Jones plots: the Nazi Ahnenerbe, or the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Organization.

The Ahnenerbe (which literally means “Inheritance of the Forefathers”) was a paranormal research group, established by order of SS head Heinrich Himmler on 1 July 1935. It was expanded during the Second World War on direct orders from the Fuhrer. Hitler and other top Nazi leaders’ (Himmler foremost among them) interest in the occult is well and widely documented. The Nazi Party actually began as an occult fraternity, before it morphed into a political party. Himmler’s SS, ostensibly Hitler’s bodyguard but in practice the leading special forces of the Nazi Army, was wholly designed based on occult beliefs. Wewelsburg, the castle headquarters of the SS, was the site of initiation rituals for twelve SS “knights” that was modeled on Arthurian legend. The magical powers of runes were invoked, and the Ahnenerbe logo features rune-style lettering. Psychics and astrologers were employed to attack the enemy and plan tactics based on the alignment of the stars. Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’s übermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.

The Ahnenerbe sent expeditions all over the world. To Tibet, to search for traces of the original, uncorrupted Aryan race, and for a creature called the Yeti, what we would call the Abominable Snowman. To Ethiopia, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. To the Languedoc, to find the Holy Grail. To steal the Spear of Destiny, which Longinus used to pierce Christ’s side as Christ hung on the cross, and which disappeared from a locked vault in Nurnberg. To Iceland, to find the entrance to a magical land of telepathic giants and faeries called Thule, which Hitler and most of the Nazi brass believed was the place of origin of the Aryans, and was very real. If they could find this entrance, believed to be accessible via a secret code hidden in a Medieval Icelandic saga called The Eddas, then the Nazis might accelerate their Aryan breeding program, and recover the supernatural powers of flight, telepathy and telekinesis that they believed their ancestors in Thule possessed, and which was lost due to inter-breeding with “lesser” races.

As crazy as all this may sound, it was fervently believed by many in the Nazi Party—so much so that huge sums of money were invested into research, along with hundreds of workers and scientists. This pseudo-scientific institute both sought supernatural advantages for the Nazi war effort, but also had a propagandistic agenda, to seek “scientific” evidence to support Nazi beliefs, like Aryan racial superiority.

With all this in mind, it is entirely plausible that Hitler believed that the Ghent Altarpiece contained a coded map to supernatural treasure. After all, the Ahnenerbe was hard at work looking for a secret entrance to the magical land of Thule in the Icelandic saga, The Eddas. Whether such a map is in The Ghent Altarpiece is another matter, one that scholars dismiss out of hand, though it is tempting to interpret the complex, enigmatic iconography and disguised symbolism of van Eyck’s masterpiece in terms more exotic than those in the average art history textbook. But there is also another component to the story that fuels this theory, and it is linked to the 1934 theft of that single panel.

There has never been a convincing explanation for the motivation for the theft of the Righteous Judges panel, referred to as such because it depicts a group of Biblical wise men (while also hiding several portraits, including one of van Eyck). While the man who masterminded the theft of the Judges panel, Arsene Goedertier, is known, he could not have acted alone, and his motivation is uncertain. The panel was ostensibly stolen in order to ransom it back to the bishopric of Saint Bavo—but Goedertier had more money in his bank account than was asked for in the ransom demand. For lack of a clear motive, various theories have arisen, one of which is linked to a Nazi art detective, Heinrich Köhn, who was sent to Ghent to find the stolen Judges panel several years before the Nazis seized the other eleven panels of the altarpiece.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, along with Himmler, conceived of the idea to find the lost Judges panel and give it as a gift to Hitler at the tenth anniversary of his assumption of power in Germany, in 1943. Köhn investigated throughout the city of Ghent, even taking apart portions of the cathedral (for one theory held that the panel had been hidden on-site, never having left Saint Bavo). He found nothing, and was sent to fight in the Eastern Front for his failure. Why would the Nazis wish to locate a single stolen panel? They surely had designs on seizing the entire altarpiece, and did not wish it to be incomplete when they did so. Some have suggested that the coded treasure map leading to the Arma Christiwas missing a key component that was hidden in the Judges panel. In order for the map to bear fruit, that panel was needed. It was stolen in 1934, therefore, to keep it out of Nazi hands, should the nascent Adolf Hitler follow through with his plan to recapture The Ghent Altarpiece and make it the focal point of his super-museum.

While there are plenty of non-supernatural, non-Da Vinci Code-y rationales for Hitler to desire The Ghent Altarpiece above all other objects, it is entirely plausible that Hitler might have believed in the coded treasure map theory. It seems far-fetched to us today, until we consider the other crazy theories that were truly believed by Hitler and his cronies. If The Eddas might contain a code to gain entrance to the magical land of Thule, where Aryan ancestors lived as flying telepathic faeries and giants then, according to Nazi logic, then the world’s most important painting might indeed contain a treasure map leading to the Holy Grail.

in thedailybeast.com

Mystery Ulfberht Viking sword has archaeologists stumped

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A mystery sword made by the Vikings and engraved with the word Ulfberht has stumped archaeologists. The sword is forged in such a way that it looks to have been made by technologies that weren’t available until 800 years after the Viking era.

Around 170 of the swords have been found, all of which date from between 800AD to 1000AD, but the technology that would have forged them is from the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s.

A television programme has looked into the mystery in more detail called, ‘Secrets of the Viking Sword’. Its researchers say that to forge the iron which the swords are made of, the ore needs to be heated to around 3000 degrees (F). It then liquefies and the impurities are removed. It is then mixed with carbon to strengthen the iron. However medieval technologies, which are what the Vikings would have been using, would not have been able to heat any metal or substance that high a temperature. In those days, the impurities would have been removed by hammering them out of the iron.

In contradiction to this, the Ulfberht contains almost no impurities at all and it has thrice the amount of carbon in it than any other metals that are known to have existed at the time. The metal the swords are made of is known as crucible steel.

Furnaces that could heat metals and substances to extremely high temperatures what not invented until the industrial revolution when the tools for heating iron to these temperatures were also developed.

A blacksmith has consulted with the television programme’s researchers and has said that to make a sword like the Ulfberht Is highly complex and difficult. The blacksmith is the only person who has the skills and tools available to try to reproduce the metal of the Ulfberht. He believes that whoever made the sword during the Viking era would have surely been thought to possess magic powers since the metal was and still is so special and unique, Ancient Origins reports.

The sword bends but doesn’t break, it stays razorsharp, and is very light weight, and so to soldiers it would have been thought of as almost supernatural.

The blacksmith spent many days working to try to recreate the Ulfberht using medieval technology, and finally did produce a similar metal with great skill and hard work. Researchers now believe it is possible that the knowledge to make the swords originated in the Middle East and that trade routes between there and Europe would have spread the knowledge and technologies. When those trade routes eventually closed, due to lack of use, so too did the Ulfberht ceased to continue being made.

in warhistoryonline.com

The last bulwark of the Crusaders: The castle of Belvoir

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July 3, 1187 was a scorching midsummer day at the Horns of Hattin, on the plateau above Tiberias. The Arab leader Saladin outwitted and crushed a parched and ill-led Crusader army, and the 88-year-long Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem began disintegrating almost overnight. Exactly three months later, Saladin entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in triumph. By the end of the year it was all over, and the Crusaders abandoned the Holy Land with their tail between their legs.

Only one powerful castle remained to fight a defiant rearguard action: Belvoir – “beautiful view” – on a ridge 500 meters (1,600 feet) above the Jordan Valley.

The Knights Hospitallers, one of the Crusader orders of “fighting monks” (the Templars were another) had bought the site from a French nobleman in 1168 and constructed one of the dominant castles in the kingdom, designed to guard the Holy Land against invasion from the east.

Belvoir’s building stones and bedrock foundations are basalt, the region’s immensely hard volcanic rock: undermining the battlements was virtually impossible. The outer walls of the castle form a pentagon, with the main defensive towers at each of its four corners, a massive one at the eastern point facing the steep slope and the valley below, and smaller ones midway along each wall.

The fortress was protected by a dry moat excavated out of the bedrock, 20m (65 ft.) wide and 12m (39 ft.) deep, and crossed by a drawbridge (now a permanent pedestrian bridge) on the west.

The ruined north-western and south-western corner towers still have parts of the steep stairwell leading down to postern gates, used for secret access to and from the castle, or for sudden attacks on besieging enemy soldiers in the moat.

Ignore the directional arrows. The best route to take is the wide gravel path directly from the parking lot to the overlook, keeping the sculpture park on your right and the castle on your left. What awaits you is a stunning view of the quilted farms in the valley, the biblical Gilead range (now Jordan) to the east, and the edge of Lake Kinneret, or Sea of Galilee, way off to the north (your left).

The straight line that joins the lake, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea is part of the approximately 6,000 km-long (3,700-mile) Great Syrian-African Rift, the world’s longest open fault.

The Arabic name for the site is Kaukab al-Hawa, the “Star of the Wind,” because of the strong breezes that often sweep the plateau. In Hebrew it is known as Kochav Hayarden, the “Star of the Jordan,” recalling the ancient Jewish town of Kochav nearby.

Both names are consistent with the description of the site by a medieval Arab writer. Belvoir, he wrote, is “set amidst the stars like an eagle’s nest and abode of the moon.”

Left, across the moat, steps enter the castle through a massive gate and a corridor dominated by shooting niches above your head. The corridor doubles back on itself before entering the central courtyard through another gate.

Kids usually get a charge out of “attacking” the castle this way – but keep smaller children close to you.

In the center of the courtyard is another fortified square – a fort within the fortress, so to speak. Within it are the essential elements of barracks life: sleeping halls, a kitchen, a cistern for collecting run-off rainwater, and a hint (fine-cut white stones) of what might have been an upper-floor chapel.

Belvoir endured a long siege following the disaster at the Horns of Hattin; but the knights took advantage of the occasional hiatus to replenish their supplies by attacking and plundering passing Muslim caravans. After 18 months, Saladin’s men had only managed to undermine the large eastern tower. The Hospitallers, on the other hand, were isolated and in despair; further resistance seemed futile. They parlayed with Saladin: surrender in return for safe passage out of the country. He honored the bargain, and with characteristic chivalry allowed them to ride to the coast with flags proudly unfurled in recognition of their heroic defense.

Rte. 717 (road climbs 5 kms), off Route 90, 12 km north of Beit She’an

Open Apr.-Sep. 8am-5pm (Fri. and holiday eve 8-4), Oct.-Mar. 8am-4pm (Fri. and  holiday eve 8-3)

Entrance fee

in Haaretz.com

Secret orders and supposed traitors — TV’s ‘Dig’ and religious history

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The pieces of the religious puzzle that make up the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series “Dig” are beginning to fall into place, and the picture they are revealing is one of history — highlighted by a colorful streak of fiction.

Here be spoilers! Read on only if you are up-to-date with the 10-part series, or want to ruin it for yourself and others.

“Order of Moriah”

This secret religious order, supposedly dating from the Crusades, seems to be a product of the “Dig” writers’ imaginations. But, like many of the show’s fictional aspects, it is based on historical fact.

The Crusades, which mainly took place from 1095 to 1291, were an attempt by the Rome-based Catholic Church to retake the Holy Land — Jerusalem and its environs — away from its Muslim rulers.

During that time, the church founded several monastic religious orders whose members traveled to Jerusalem. Some fought with the armies; some cared for the wounded and sick. The most famous of these orders were the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Teutonic and the Knights Templar.

It is perhaps the Templars that the Order of Moriah is based on. Officially named “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the Knights Templar were anything but poor. They owned land from Rome to Jerusalem and were involved in finance throughout the Christian world. They loaned money to King Philip IV of France and the church.

That’s where they got into trouble. When the king didn’t want to pay them back, he pressuredPope Clement V to disband the knights. The resistant knights were charged with heresy and many members were arrested, tortured and burned at the stake. Legend holds that some members went into hiding — and took a lot of loot with them.

Writers have been making fictional hay with the Knights Templar and other so-called “secret” religious orders since Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” in 1820. The most famous example is Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” in which a Templar-like order called the “Priory of Sion” keeps a really, really big secret about the nature of the “Holy Grail.”

Enter “Dig,” whose evil archaeologist, Ian Margove (Richard E. Grant), is after the “treasure” the Order of Moriah is supposed to have buried somewhere in Jerusalem.

Flavius Josephus

Archaeologist Margrove says that “according to Flavius Josephus,” the breastplate will pinpoint the location of the treasure.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. Contemporary Jews are most familiar with him for his firsthand account of the revolt of the Maccabees, a Jewish sect that rose against Roman rule, while Christians know him for his description of Jesus’ early followers.

But Josephus’ own biography is as fascinating as his historical works. He was born to well-to-do and noble Jews in 37 C.E. in Jerusalem. At 16, he went to live with a desert hermit — perhaps an Essene — but returned to Jerusalem at age 19 and joined the Pharisees, a Jewish priestly sect. During the First Jewish-Roman War, he was in charge of a section of Jerusalem’s forces.

At one point, Josephus and 40 of his followers were trapped in a cave. Rather than surrender, Josephus persuaded them to commit group suicide, with each man drawing lots and killing a companion, so no one would have to kill himself. For whatever reason — an act of luck or the hand of God — by the time the lots got around to Josephus, he and another soldier were the last ones standing. And they surrendered to the Romans. Josephus went on to become a friend of the Emperor Vespasian and the recipient of a Roman pension.

For this reason, many have considered him a traitor — he’s been called the “Jewish Benedict Arnold” by some scholars. But in the past few decades, some scholars are rehabilitating his image, claiming he joined the Romans out of a sense of deference or even unwillingly.

Whatever the truth, the characters of “Dig” are right to turn to Josephus for information about early Jewish rituals and practices. His book “Antiquities of the Jews” describes first-century Jewish religious garments and ritual items, including a priest’s breastplate that is critical to the “Dig” plotline.

But using such a breastplate as a treasure map is fictional — not historical — at all.

YS/MG END WINSTON

Eis o jardim de Klingsor e o Castelo do Santo Graal

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Em pleno dia de Pentecostes acompanhámos o autor e ensaísta Luis de Matos, editor chefe do Templar Globe, numa visita guiada ao Palácio da Pena em Sintra. Terminada a visita pudemos trocar algumas impressões e fazer a entrevista que reproduzimos de seguida.

Templar Globe (TG) – Luis, dia de Pentecostes e visita à Pena. Coincidência?

Luis de Matos (LM) – Diz-me tu.

TG – Falou-se muito das Lendas do Santo Graal. Será por isso?

LM – Não. E sim. Há uma relação entre a Demanda do Santo Graal e o Pentecostes. De facto, a versão da Vulgata inicia-se com a celebração do Pentecostes no reino de Artur, data em que tradicionalmente se lançava tavolado e se armavam cavaleiros. Nesse dias esperavam-se sempre milagres e maravilhas. E o romance começa precisamente com alguns acontecimento que maravilham todos e com a armação de Galaaz, filho de Lancelot. Mas não é por isso que escolhemos a Pena.

TG – Outros motivos?

LM – Sim. Como sabes os meus deveres profissionais afastam-me muitas vezes de Portugal. Sou director de uma empresa na área da Digital Media e Tecnologias da Informação e, embora viva há mais de 30 anos na zona de Sintra, estou mais ou menos entre 1/3 e 2/3 dos dias do ano longe de casa. Poder regressar aos lugares que formaram uma ideia que tenho do mundo – e Sintra é um deles – é um privilégio. Por isso fui desenvolvendo alguns hábitos que tento manter religiosamente. Entre eles está fazer uma espécie de Peregrinação a lugares especiais do nosso país, mais longe de Lisboa, lá pela pausa de Julho. Não sei porquê, mas um mês antes das grandes feiras de videojogos como o Gamescom onde tenho de ir, há sempre ali uma ou duas semanas mais livres. Mantenho o hábito de aproveitar para conhecer melhor Portugal há uns anos. Quase sempre há amigos que acabam por ser arrastados e fazemos uma autêntica comitiva. Outras vezes aproveito para visitar amigos que estão longe e só comunicamos pelo Facebook. Já fiz passeios em estudo nessa época do ano a Braga, Lamego, São João de Tarouca, Carrazeda de Ansiães e uma boa parte das Beiras e Trás-os-Montes…

TG – Tu és de lá de cima.

LM – Sim, fiz a escola primária em Mirandela. Conheço bem Bragança, Chaves, Miranda, Mogadouro, Macedo de Cavaleiros… Enfim, estar em Trás-os-Montes é estar em casa. Mas como o meu pai era da zona de Moimenta da Beira, a região de Lamego, Tabuaço, Douro e mesmo Viseu são lugares também enraizados na memória que gosto de revisitar. Durante algum tempo andei por ali todos os anos à procura das memórias das famílias que fundaram a nacionalidade. O Vale do Sousa é muito especial, com uma herança românica única. A cidade do Porto também tem muito que se lhe diga.

TG – És tripeiro…

LM – Sou. Não do ponto de vista futebolístico. Não tenho clube. Mas sou do Bonfim, ali sobre Campanhã onde tinha nascido o Mestre Agostinho [da Silva].

TG – Mas essas visitas são em Julho. Ainda estamos em Maio…

LM – Estou a desviar-me! Outro hábito que tenho é comemorar as Luas Cheias de Carneiro – que coincide com a Páscoa, de Touro e de Gémeos. Não é uma questão astrológica, mas sim tradicional. São três momentos muito particulares no ciclo anual. A última coincide muitas vezes com o Pentecostes. Como tenho responsabilidades em algumas organizações de matriz religiosa, a Páscoa é quase sempre comemorada seguindo a liturgia Cristã. E por ser Chanceler Internacional de uma Ordem de inspiração Templária, o Pentecostes é sempre marcado por algum tipo de actividade. Ora, este ano, devido a uma questão de calendário pessoal, que se definiu muito tarde para Maio e tendo-se dado a feliz coincidência de ter terminado o Curso Livre na Universidade Lusófona sobre Templários e Templarismo há poucas semanas e os meus alunos me terem desafiado para lhes guiar uma visita a Tomar, decidi juntar o útil ao muito agradável e, com eles, com o apoio do Instituto Hermético na divulgação e da OSMTHU, fazer um curto ciclo de visitas como costumo fazer em Maio/Junho.

TG – Então esta não é a primeira.

LM – Não. Começámos em Tomar em Abril, apenas para alunos do Curso. Depois aproveitei então o bom tempo e os Domingos, porque estou sempre em Lisboa ao Domingo e marquei uma visita ao Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, esta ao Palácio da Pena e no próximo Domingo à Quinta da Regaleira, com o Luis Fonseca.

TG – E vai haver mais?

LM – De momento penso que não. Não podemos abusar da paciência das pessoas! Penso em associar-me à festa de São João, que também costumamos fazer em Santa Eufêmea, em Sintra em Junho e talvez mais próximo da tal pausa de Julho (se houver este ano!), logo se vê o que programo. Mas não há mais planos de momento.

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TG – Qual é a relação destas visitas com a Ordem dos Templários a que pertences.

LM – Como sabes o Templar Globe é o órgão de divulgação principal da Ordem Internacional. Fui eu que o fundei e é um lugar de troca e publicação de informação credível sobre os Templários – antigos e modernos. Ultrapassámos há muito o milhão e meio de visitas. Por isso faz parte integrante do modo de comunicar da Ordem. Em geral, tudo o que eu faço pessoalmente relacionado com o tema Templários tem a cobertura do Templar Globe que o divulga através dos grupos do Facebook e internacionalmente. As Comendadorias de Sintra e de Lisboa são importantes bases de apoio ao estudo e actividades da Ordem. Deste modo, o que eu faço, divulgo ou publico sobre os Templários é coerente com o que a Ordem faz. Não confessional nem prosélito, no sentido em que não uso publicações e visitas para cooptar ninguém para a Ordem. Pelo contrário. Há sempre pessoas que me perguntam sobre como entrar na Ordem e eu recomendo-lhes sempre que visitem o site oficial e escrevam um mail para lá. O tema não é a Ordem em que eu estou e onde me sinto bem e onde gosto de trabalhar, mas sim os Templários como Ordem histórica e ideário já muito preenchido de mitos e lendas. Não é uma questão de aumentar fileiras. Bem pelo contrário! O que faço – isso sim – é usar os eventos, publicações e visitas para procurar entusiasmar os que as procuram, a estudar por si mesmos, pensar por si mesmos e concluir por si mesmos. E isso é instrução vital para quem esteja numa Ordem Templária, moderna ou antiga. Mas é também fundamental para quem não esteja em Ordem nenhuma! Ou seja, as actividades públicas que faço são coerentes com o que defendo sobre o mundo iniciático e, nesse sentido, são apropriadas para membros das Ordens a que pertenço, das Ordens a que não pertenço e dos que não querem ser membros de Ordem ou Religião alguma. Há momentos para tudo na vida. Seria matar o propósito das visitas fechá-las a um ramo da grande família fraternal ou usá-las para cooptar gente. Sei que os membros da Ordem Templária aproveitam as visitas para aprender. Mas não se esgota aí. O Curso Livre da Lusófona é outra coisa bem diferente.

TG – Não está afiliado à Ordem?

LM – Absolutamente não. Enquanto na Ordem a aproximação ao tema Templário é na perspectiva da Cavalaria Espiritual como um modelo de comportamento e estudo pessoal, com os seus temas, paradoxos, meditações, objectivos, desafios e imperativos de compromisso interior e com o próximo, o Curso na Universidade é académico. Explora a história da Cavalaria, na qual os Templários se inserem, todo o contexto religioso e depois a história dos diversos movimentos que se foram inspirando nos Templários desde o século XIV ao século XX.

TG – Qual é a diferença?

LM – No primeiro caso estuda-se a doutrina com o objectivo de adoptar as ideias e integrá-las num modelo de comportamento pessoal como via de relação com o divino. No segundo estudam-se as ideias, a suas evolução, de onde surgem e que impacto tiveram na história, na arte, na religião. No primeiro caso vivem-se os Mitos. No segundo conhecem-se os Mitos, as suas origens, o seu arquétipo e o modo como Mito é usado para impulsionar vontades e acontecimentos, sem necessidade de os viver ou acreditar no seu “nada que é tudo”.

TG – E os alunos do Curso da Universidade Lusófona não têm expectativas diferentes de cada visita?

LM – O tema é o tema. Cada um percepciona-o como entende. Creio que as expectativas não são goradas, porque nas visitas estão todo o tipo de pessoas. Os meus livros têm leitores de todo o género. Não sou um autor para apenas um grupo como muitos dos meus colegas autores. Alguns só são lidos nos círculos Maçónicos. Outros só são lidos nos círculos de Nova Era. Outros só são lidos entre duas paragens em bombas de gasolina. Outros só são lidos por académicos. Outros por leitores que não se filiam em nada. Eu tenho uma base de leitores que abarca todos estes grupos e grupo nenhum. O mesmo se pode dizer dos que vão às minhas visitas ou conferências. Procura não ter uma linguagem “confessional” e proselitista. Não estou a recrutar. Não estou mesmo. Deixem-me em paz. Já tenho muito que fazer. Por isso, ao não ter uma “agenda”, ao não querer promover mais do que o livre pensamento e despertar nos outros a mesma paixão sobres os temas ou lugares que eu mesmo tenho, sem ataduras ou molduras doutrinais, tomo os assuntos de modo que cada um que me ouça ou leia possa tirar o que melhor lhe parecer para a sua busca livre. É seguir as palavras que ouvi ao Mestre Agostinho: “o que importa é gostar do que se faz e ser-se contagioso no entusiasmo”. Por isso, creio que os meus alunos não poderão dizer que lhes tentei impingir doutrinas ou códigos e por isso não creio que as expectativas que tivessem possam ter sido goradas. Espero, isso sim, que os tenha motivado e lerem-me e a deitarem fora os meus livros, trocando-os por coisas ainda melhores.

TG – Mas ao seleccionar um tema como a Demanda do Santo Graal para a Pena já é dar um mote doutrinal.

LM – De modo algum. Foi Strauss que disse “Eis o jardim de Klingsor e o Castelo do Santo Graal” quando esteve em Sintra. Isso acontece porque reconheceu o cenário no qual as óperas de Wagner se desenrolam. Curiosamente Parzival de Wagner é de 1882 e o Palácio da Pena de 1840. Quem inspirou o quê? Quem é percursor do quê? Neste caso o que é evidente é que o mesmo tipo de imaginário que inspirou Wagner tinha já inspirado D. Fernando II.  O facto de ambos terem tido contacto com círculos iniciáticos muito próximos pode ajudar a explicar a coincidência. Mas a associação da Demanda à Pena não é uma questão doutrinal. É uma questão de facto.

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TG – Então onde é que o Luis traça a linha limite.

LM – Traço a linha limite na interpretação desses factos. Ao fazer uma visita destas procuro dar aos meus companheiros de tarde uma boa história. Como se nos juntássemos à volta de uma fogueira e partilhássemos aventuras. Nas visitas tento não falar só eu. Também quero ouvir e aprender. Estão ali muitos pares de olhos que conseguem ver o que eu não vejo e sabem o que eu não sei. O que já aprendi nestas visitas! Ui! Eu o que posso dar é o referencial que não se encontra logo disponível. Interesso-me por estes assuntos, sempre os mesmos, há tanto tempo que algumas coisas foram ficando consolidadas. Lá diz o ditado “O Diabo sabe tanto, mais por ser velho do que por ser Diabo”. Ao manter sempre a mesma linha, acabo por ir construindo uma mundividência só minha, concreta e definida, consistente. É essa experiência que devo partilhar, poupando tempo a quem me acompanha, para que disponham logo de dados relevantes para que façam a sua mundividência eles mesmos. Saber, por exemplo, que D. Fernando II era maçon ajuda a entender algumas coisas. Mas saber que ele se filiava numa Maçonaria alemã de raiz ligada à antiga Estrita Observância Templária reformada, ajuda a perceber o seu interesse pelo pintor Nicolas Poussin e as particularidades que se encontram nos pratos de Cifka. A interpretação desses elementos já são outros “quinhentos”, por assim dizer. É aí que eu traço a linha. Se me fizerem perguntas sobre a interpretação, não deixarei de responder, sublinhando que é a minha interpretação. Mas o que encorajo é a que cada um procure saber mais. Toca a “googlar” Cifka, Estrita Observância e Nicolas Poussin. Não me perguntem o que quer dizer. Descubram! O mais difícil está feito.

TG – Foi assim no Mosteiro dos Jerónimos?

LM – Claro. Um livro incontornável é “A História Secreta de Portugal” do António Telmo, onde se faz um primeiro exercício de interpretação de muitos dos elementos iconográficos. Mas eu não vou aos Jerónimos explicar António Telmo. Ele é auto-explicativo. Compra-se o livro, lê-se, até se pode fazer a visita com o livro na mão e temos lá o que pensava António Telmo. O que importa é dizer que não foi só António Telmo que pensou os Jerónimos. Importa chamar a atenção para o trabalho sobre o simbolismo do Manuelino do Paulo Pereira, para o célebre programa que a RTP passou da autoria do Manuel J. Gandra e do António Carlos de Carvalho nos idos dos anos 80, para algumas linhas escritas e particularmente os painéis do Rossio do Mestre Lima de Freitas e, já noutro plano, para todo um acervo mais recente de autores como Eduardo Amarante, Paulo Loução, entre muitos outros. Assim sim. Assim já temos uma base para “navegar” os claustros. Há informação de qualidade, há especulação, há teses distintas. É isso que serve o visitante. Serve-lhe saber onde há-de ir procurar para fazer a sua própria visita e a sua construção simbólica sobre os Jerónimos.

TG – Então não se ficou a saber o que o Luis pensa?

LM – O que o Luis pensa é muito útil ao Luis. Mas é pouco útil a quem quer compreender – no sentido bíblico de circunscrever e apreender – por si. Não quero que venham ver-me fazer sapatos, que eu não sou sapateiro. Quero que, ao explicar os sapatos, alguns saiam das visitas a querer ir experimentar fazer um par! Uma vez ou outra, lá vou dando a minha orientação temática, porque o tema está lá e fala-se pouco dele. Por exemplo, um tema fascinante nos Jerónimos é o dos túmulos vazios. Até D. Sebastião lá está! Eu tenho opinião e conto algumas histórias. Mas o essencial é apontar por onde procurar mais informação e pontos de vista inusitados ou inabituais. Acho que é disso que as pessoas mais gostam. Uma história bem contada é um apontador.

TG – E no Palácio da Pena, que temas costumam passar despercebidos?

LM – Muitos. Mesmo muitos. Tal como com os Jerónimos há uma visão mais ou menos consagrada da Pena que ignora muitos detalhes. E é no detalhe que está o tesouro. Sim, Parque e Palácio estão relacionados com a Demanda do Graal. Mas que Demanda? Há várias versões, várias linhas tradicionais. Qual delas? Que elementos estão ali expressos? E que outras correntes são determinantes para a Pena tal como a conhecemos hoje? Passa-se ao lado de quase tudo. Um tema fulcral, por exemplo, é o de saber se havia ali um Convento ou um Mosteiro. Não é tudo a mesma coisa… Outro tema é conhecer a Ordem Hieronimita, o que poderá surpreender os mais desatentos. Outro ainda, sobre o qual nos debruçámos nesta última visita, é o dos vitrais. Os da Capela são de tal modo importantes que foram feitos logo em 1840, ano do início das obras. Fazem, portanto, parte dos planos iniciais e aquilo que neles se expressa será fundamental – no sentido mesmo de fundação. Mas mesmo a colecção de esparsos reunida no Salão Nobre não é aleatória e apresenta bastas razões para uma reflexão cuidada. É mais um apontador pouco referenciado.

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TG – O que podemos esperar para a Quinta da Regaleira.

LM – Tudo.

TG – Tudo?

LM – Apontadores. O 515 pode ser logo tratado. Basta 1 minuto e está. A questão Maçónica já foi muito bem ponderada pelo José Anes. Mais um par de minutos e fica o apontador. Quase todos os que vão ou já leram, ou podem vir a ler em breve o livro. Outro apontador é o do Manuel Gandra que publicou informação relevante sobre a colecção camoniana de Carvalho Monteiro, agora em Washington. Isso toma mais uns minutos. Noutro plano, naquele espaço não se pode ignorar o trabalho do Victor Adrião, que já estuda a Quinta desde há muitos, muitos anos. Trabalho extenso, documentado e detalhado. Mais um par de minutos. Como é costume não direi nada sobre o autor, mesmo sabendo que não é recíproco! Em menos de 20 minutos os apontadores mais conhecidos estarão dados. Perfeito. Será então hora de por isso tudo numa pastinha, fechar e ver em casa. Porque chegou a hora de, isso sim, fazer o que se deve fazer naquele jardim: passear. Deixar-se levar. Deixar-se encantar. Viver a tarde. Olhar o detalhe, deixar a evocação surgir à superfície do consciente. É um jardim iniciático. Comece-se a iniciação.

Fotos: Sunana Ferreira (c) 2015

Texto: TG (c) 2015

Remembering the Less Fortunate the 13 of October

Posted on Updated on

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Photo: Gare do Oriente, the main transport hub of Lisbon, Portugal. Designed by Arch. Santiago Calatrava

This 13 of October, the OSMTHU in Portugal remembered the martyrdom of the Templars by helping the less fortunate.

In the last few weeks a spontaneous movement gained momentum: A Few Hours Dedicated to Your Fellow Man. With the help and involvement of members of the Order, a growing group of anonymous people and most recently local celebrities, started gathering every Monday night in Lisbon’s iconic Gare do Oriente, the well known railway station designed by renowned Architect Santiago Calatrava for the 1998 World Expo and now the main transportation hub of the capital city. The railway/bus/underground station is sought after by homeless people that choose the architectural marvel to spend their night with a roof over their heads. And they are dozens. And dozens. Of all ages and backgrounds. Since the worldwide crisis reached Portugal and the national government was forced to ask for help from the IMF, the European Bank and the European Union, unemployment has risen to unheard-of numbers and salaries plummeted to a level where some people, although they still work, can’t make their ends meet for them and their families. All sorts of welfare support and pensions were cut down, leaving the most fragile in Portugal in a situation close to the most abject poverty, stripped of their livelihood and dignity.

This last 13 of October, instead of a gala dinner event, a nice ceremony or a simple prayer, the Templars of Portugal decided to honor those fallen in France in 1307 by remembering those falling close to us who do not have the benefit to have access to a simple bed or the most basic food. This 13 of October we gave our time to help others.

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It was with a great sense of humility and compassion that the Portuguese Knights, Dames and Squires came to the Gare do Oriente, bringing food, first-need goods such as blankets, clothing, soap and hygiene products, and sat down with homeless men and women at a long table specially prepared in a local restaurant. They sat, they ate, they talked and heard firsthand the stories and misfortunes that seem to befall more and more people around them. Nobody dressed in regalia. There wasn’t even a Templar cross to be seen. Nobody tried to convert anyone else to a religion or way of thinking. They were all equals at the table and for a couple of hours the dream of a life without inequality was lived at that table.

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What better lesson could we teach our Squires that are ready to become more fully committed with the Order’s values and duties?

Well, if you want to know, join us in Lisbon next Monday. Every Monday.

Luis de Matos
Prior General, Portugal
OSMTHU

 

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